Dear Church: Get Real, Not Relevant.

I got something to say…

…and gotta get it straight before the sun goes down.

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If the church wants to be a city on a hill, then why is it trying so hard to be relevant?

Not to suggest the church should be indifferent towards evangelism or complacent in discipling; I’m just sayin’ since when did the church become ashamed of the Gospel? Since when did she start making it about you…and your receptivity to truth?

‘Cause truth is: the church was never meant to be culturally relevant or well-received, but contextually real and eagerly given.¹

For what we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know and understand the wonderful things God has given us.” ~ 1 Corinthians 2:12 (AMP)

 “[So I have intended] to come to you, in order that I may reap harvest among you…both to the wise and to the foolish. I am eager to preach the gospel to you…for I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” ~ Romans 1:13-16 (ESV)

Granted, most of you agree; however, in a time when church gets commission, but not Gospel…where truth is seen as content only worth its reach, it shouldn’t surprise us why many struggle to get God since what’s being modeled to them is more marketable than relatable.

Thus, it’s worth asking: How do we conquer the divide (be it deception, segregation, warped ecclesiology, etc.) in a way that gets us back to fishing for men without the bait? 

To answer this, we must accept…

  1. Relatability and relevancy are two completely different thing (more on this in a future post; ’til then, note Jesus’ interaction with outcasts (Luke 15, 1 Corinthians 5, Matthew 21, Mark 5, John 4).
  2. The world isn’t looking for church to be relevant; it’s desperate for something real, radical and revolutionary.
  3. When we’re reaching out, embracing in, and loving like Jesus, we never have to attract people to the Kingdom because it’s already there in front of them.

Remember the church’s call is to draw near to the lost like God, not draw the lost to find God.

Sure, our church may be in the midst of a powerful sermon series with catchy taglines to promote. But at the end of the day, what the world really wants is the reality of grace abounding as people love the way they know how.

‘Til then, I charge the church to get real about her entitled expectations. ‘Cause honestly, whether or not we’re in favor of a church’s peripherals (worship style, tech incorporation, service flow) or demographics (diversity), shouldn’t distract us from what ultimately matters – people fearlessly living and loving like Jesus…who are willing to resonate truth rather than make it relevant.

Remember Jesus didn’t die for you so you could be you; He died so we could be of same mind and heart so those lost and afflicted could join in. He didn’t die so you could be convinced how special you are; He died so you could tell others why they are.  He didn’t die so you could be served; He died so you wouldn’t have to worry whether or not you are.

And that, my friends, is what the Gospel is all about:  serving those deserving, giving to the living, bringing unity to community, telling not selling…I could go on.

Maybe you’re sitting there discouraged wishing things could turn around. If so, I want to encourage you tonight: while it may seem you gotta get your life in order to make a difference, you can make a difference in order to make a life.

Yeah, you may think you have nothing to offer, you make think your faith isn’t ‘attractable’, but given the Word says it’s who you are over what you have (1 Peter 2:9, Galatians 3:27-28), you never have to worry about having something to lose and nothing to give.

As for the church, I also encourage you: whether you’re pitching a product, promoting a series, or marketing a vision, never forget…

  1. The ‘me’ in ‘follow me’ (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17) is not about you.
  2. We’re called to make disciple-makers, not gain followers.
  3. Millennials don’t want your relevancy; they want your authenticity.

After all, when we “present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God”, we not only capture their attention, but their hearts as well.²

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Selah.



Footnotes

  1. Vaters, Karl (2016, March 30). “Forget Being Culturally Relevant.” Christianity Today.
  2. Dyck, Drew. (2017). “Millennials Don’t Need a Hipper Pastor, They Need a Bigger God”). The Aquila Report.

Cover photo creds: Pinterest 

5 Inspired Lessons for Today’s Youth Pastors

We live in a time when the church is radically changing, a reality no more evident than among today’s youth. Yet, while the challenge may seem intimidating, when we, as youth pastors, seek to better understand the times, we can discover powerful truth and application.

Granted, it’d take a year and a day to unpack them all so for now, let’s focus on five inspired lessons for today’s youth pastor…

1) Understand the boundaries of social media

It’s no secret today’s youth live and die by social media. Perhaps you’ve noticed more of your youth defining their identity by how many Facebook likes, selfie comments, or Instagram followers they have.

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Regardless, it’s critical we, as Generation Z youth leaders, understand how to use modern technology and social media in living the question, “How can I reach more people with the love of Christ?

As I told our youth several times, the gravity of social media is self-centeredness if we’re looking to it for affirmation; however, if we choose to exude confidence in who we are in Christ, we allow social media to be the encouragement tool it was meant to be.

2) Don’t take peoples’ prolonged absences personally

If you’ve been in ministry long enough, you’ve probably noticed some families checking out for extended periods with little to no communication. Naturally, when this happens, our first instinct is to wonder why; however, as hard as it may be, it’s critical we not take their absences personally.

For one thing, just because you’re a minister doesn’t mean you’re entitled to know every intimate detail of a person’s life. Furthermore, church commitment can’t always be measured in attendance. The reality is life gets crazy and for some, a breather from church can be of benefit.

I remember during my second year as youth pastor when a family disappeared for months without any heads up. Without any leads or intel, the head-scratching was real. “What triggered this? Did something happen? What can be done,” I often thought.

However, after a get-real prayer time with God, it hit me: my role was not to maintain them, but to sustain them…not to keep them in church, but en-couraged!

You see, up until that point, I had been interpreting withdrawal as a function of ego…as if someone else’s distance was my fault; however…

…once I surrendered the right to fully understand outside situations, only then was I able to find the balance between letting go and reaching out.

3) Integrate youth leaders into communication

No question, one of the most exhausting tasks of any youth pastor is getting everyone on the same page. I’m sure many of you at some point have wondered, “Even when I communicate face to face, I have to repeat myself over and over again!”

However, as frustrating the struggle may be, when we filter this challenge through the question, “How can I reach more people with the love of Christ”, we discover how empowering youth to connect with peers can improve communication.

I recall a youth leadership meeting during which my student leaders discussed this issue having realized the need for a better internal and external communication process. As they decided, for the internal process, each youth leader would receive a monthly contact list of sick, struggling, or frequently absent youth to text or call. Likewise, with the external process, each youth leader would invite a friend at school (or outside the leadership core) into the promotion of community events. In this way, not only could adult leaders focus more on parental/professional communication, but also youth could share in the responsibility while fortifying relational bridges as disciple-makers.

One of my favorite examples of this took place when our youth teamed up with the children’s ministry in a recent vacation Bible school promotion outreach. At first, all participants met at the church to pray and inquire of the Lord where to go and who to target. Then, after reaching a spiritual consensus, we broke into groups dispersing into different parts of the city from nearby apartment complexes to local businesses, strip malls, and parks.

From a PR and publicity perspective, the outreach was a huge success resulting in the most attended VBS in our church’s history; however, for our youth, no question bonding with younger peers while recognizing their value in community service left the greatest impressions.

4) Don’t stress about relationships

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It’s inevitable. At some point, boy meets girl, boy asks girl out, and before you know it…bam! You have a dating relationship along with endless gossip fodder on your hands. As some of you can attest, the stewardship of purity can be a hard road to navigate from anxious parents and their content expectations to distracted youth and their thirst for acceptance.

Yet, it’s in these circumstances we must remember our role is not to parent but to partner with parents in extending their standards. As you’ll inevitably find, not only will this establish trust between pastor and parent, but also empower the parent to love as Jesus loves and the youth to love what Jesus loves. Not to mention the door will be opened for healthy dialogue to take place regularly.

For instance, during my third year as youth pastor, one of my youth worship leaders started a dating relationship with a fellow youth leader. At first, I felt zero qualms about the development, but gradually, I noticed an uptick in PDA and subsequently, my discomfort in how it could potentially translate. Eventually, a youth parent called me up asking why I wasn’t doing anything to ‘snuff the flame’ out. In response, I told him my responsibility wasn’t to parent, but rather invite the parents involved into the conversation of helping these youth live above reproach.

As it turned out, after discussing the matter with the appropriate parties, each side came away with a better scriptural understanding of what stewarding physical affection looks like.

5) It’s not about quantity, but quality

How many of you have ever been asked “How big is your youth group”? Probably a number of times, right?

Yet, while the question may seem shallow, we must remember:

  • Faithfulness is not a function of church size.
  • The purpose of church is commissioning community1, not boasting numbers.

If you ask me, I’d rather have 10 passionate youth who understand the Spirit-led life, versus 50 youth looking to be entertained on their weekly pit stop.

After all, pastoring youth is all about cultivating a Gospel-driven culture, not an agenda-driven ministry2.

Selah.

Footnotes

1) Specifically, community extending the territory of God’s presence

2) Cultivating a place where God’s presence can be known (i.e. demonstrating heaven on earth) is our purpose. Thus, it doesn’t make sense to elevate any pursuit above serving the body in a way the Kingdom is expressed.

Photo credits: whoworship.com, cbbc.com, chastity.com

You May Be Bivocational If…

And now…to brighten your weekend…here are a couple clichés you may be able to relate to.

You may be bivocational if…

  • You drive to work only to realize you’ve been going the wrong way for miles on route to church.
  • You accidentally say “outreach” in place of the words: “outbreak”, “outback” or “outsource”.
  • Your day-timer is loaded with the words, “coffee”, “train” & “lunch”.
  • You’re a role model tithe-giver.
  • You have more degrees than an acute angle.
  • Your résumé and/or LinkedIn profiles list ProPresenter and Keynote under “skills”.
  • You accidentally ‘amen’ during a staff meeting.
  • Your boss defaults to you to pray before special luncheons.
  • You literally consider a career in tent-making.
  • You reach out to John Maxwell to speak at your church and work.
  • You have just as many “groups” listed under contacts as individual contacts in your phone directory.
  • You have a Bible study with work colleagues but attend marketplace ministry seminars hosted by your church.
  • Your mail is saturated with sermon series packages and international outreach invitations.
  • Half your Instagram and/or Twitter followers are organizations, not actual people.

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See some not listed?

Check out our bonus reel above…then add to the list by commenting below.

‘Til then, we’ll see you next time on “You May Be Bivocational If…”

Good night.

Music credits: “Boogie Power” by Mark Scholl, Robert J Walsh; “Whistle to Work” by Jimmy Kaleth, Ross Andrew Mclean

Setting Boundaries in Bivocational Ministry: Part 2

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the importance of intentional boundary-setting in ministry.

Today, we’re going to explore the difference between walls and boundaries…and begin an introductory discussion on how pastors can effectively establish these boundaries (whether personal, ethical or relational).

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Let’s face it: You like being a mystery…camouflaging into an absorbed agenda…hidden behind the veil of an appointed title.

I know I do.

Granted, there are times when a desire for transparency wins me over.

But for the most part, I like the security of knowing I’m not easily decipherable. Just being honest.

Now, irony aside, you can tell I’m being conspicuous about my preference of being the exact opposite.

Yet, chances are, you’ve read this mail before and would, thus, diagnosis this as a wall-setting mindset (as opposed to a boundary-setting one).

However, not all cases are so conveniently cracked.

Why? Because it can be very challenging to discern the right ministerial boundaries, especially in an entitled era saturated with accessible information and self-centered tendencies.

But before we get too deep on the grey side (cough, social media, cough) of the issue, let’s first define the difference between a wall and a boundary.

When we talk about a boundary, we’re talking about a necessary limitation as authorized by God for us to employ. For instance, a true boundary protects us from idolatry, poor time management and relational drama…just to name a few.

And while it may be easy to think of boundaries in terms of protection, I believe they’re better considered as a means of stewardship. As the Bible clearly states (1 Corinthians 4:2, Titus 1:7-9, Matthew 25:20-21), God desires us to be faithful stewards of the time and resources He’s given us. So as ministers, it’s important to be fair and consistent in unbiased service and attention. This doesn’t mean you treat every counseling appointment as a timed therapy session or keep a ledger on every encouraging word that comes out of your mouth. Fact is: some people require more energy and love than others…and that’s okay. At any rate, when we’re plugged into God’s input, we’ll find all the help we need to enforce the right checks at the right time.

On the flip side, when we talk about a wall, we’re talking about an unnecessary blockade, often initiated by a stronghold (whether fear, anger, bitterness, guilt, etc.). Ironically, with walls, many are set up to draw (pun intended) attention…to inspire someone to come along and make an attempt to climb them (hello, manipulation); however, the problem with walls is they don’t constructively confront the issue, but rather take people further away from where God intended them to be. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see how walls are manufactured means to self-protection and, thus, not authorized by God.

So clearly, the goal is to establish boundaries (not walls) around our personal, ethical and relational commitments. Fair enough, right?

Well, not so fast, young padawan.

Doing so requires strategy, not to mention a continued posture of submission.

As mentioned in my last post, valuing boundaries starts with valuing the ways of God. And while it may be hard for people to wrap their heads around what God did on the seventh day, it’s nevertheless an imperative part of the boundary-setting process.

district_5110_foundation_stewardship‘Cause truth is: once we start to embrace rest as a key essential in our daily lives (yes, I said “daily”), only then will we want to lay boundaries out of a place of stewardship, as opposed to fear; only then, will be begin to see how removing the walls in our lives can create the space and initiate the desire to better foster what God has given us.

So as you finish off the week, I encourage you to examine the walls in your life. Ask yourself: In what places of my heart are walls set up? What inspired them…and what steps do I need to take to conquer term? Also, in what ways can my boundary-setting be more defined?

Then, after asking the Lord to break off the walls in your life…invite Him to replace them with the appropriate boundary and strategy. If you need to reconcile? Do it. If you need to forgive someone who has wronged you? Do it. If you need take a leap and go out of your way to bless another through a random act of kindness or word of encouragement? Do it.

‘Cause at the end of the day, setting boundaries is all about making God’s priorities, your priorities…about making His the heart the one you want people to see.

So here’s to holy boundary-setting & cheers to the glorious journey ahead…

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